For years peace advocates have used two fingers to protest warfare, Black Power activists have raised their clenched fists in the air to demand justice and equal rights and now... will feminists grab their underboob as a rallying cry for solidarity and female empowerment?
Maybe. If Beyoncé has anything to do with it.
For fans who have gotten to see the pop star perform on her Formation Tour, which just wrapped its run with a star-studded show that included cameos from Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar and Serena Williams, they might have noticed the move during Beyoncé's performance of her Major Lazer-sampling feminist anthem "Run the World (Girls)." It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment but nevertheless a very much intentional (and recurring) gesture in her choreography, taking place mostly towards the end of the number when Beyoncé quickly cups the underside of her breast and gives it a swift push upwards.
The move may be brief but it's nonetheless empowering (if you're able to catch her doing it). Unlike other gestures involving a woman's chest -- say, squeezing both breasts together with your hands or cupping the tops of them -- this one feels desexualized both for its subtlety and for the way it involves only one breast instead of the pair. In that sense, Beyoncé's gesture is less similar to that of the woman best known for images of hands and breasts: Janet Jackson. While in Janet's case, her famous boob grabs (whether via another person's hands like her infamous Super Bowl performance and her iconic Rolling Stone cover or her own) had an unmistakable sense of eroticism, Beyoncé's feels different. It feels like a move that signifies power and strength.
In some ways it's less reminiscent of Janet Jackson and more reminiscent of her brother, Michael. It's like a less in your face (and less vulgar) version of Jacko (and Madonna's) famous crotch grab. To be fair, MJ once demurred that the crotch grab's significance was nothing more than an unconscious move he did when he was really feeling the music though it's apparent Madonna's mimicry of the gesture had a much more explicit message of empowerment. But no matter what the original idea behind Jackson (or Madonna's) move was, sometimes audience perception trumps performer intention and so that gesture nevertheless has been seared into our minds as one associated with dominance.
And so while it's unlikely the famously interview-averse Beyoncé will go on the record to explain the move and her motivations behind it, it's possible her fans will begin picking up on the gesture and its association with "Run the World (Girls)" and start adopting it for themselves. So the next time you see a young woman grab her boob, don't just assume she's doing it to attract a potential hook up. She's doing it for Beyoncé and feminism.